SALT LAKE CITY — Less than a quarter of the 127,375 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines reported received in Utah have been used to vaccinate health care providers and long-term care facility residents and staff as of the end of the year.
“The initial rollout of the vaccine has been slow, slower than anticipated, slower than we wanted,” said Rich Lakin, immunization program director with the Utah Department of Health. “We hope to be at a much faster pace in the next 15 days.”
Vaccinations began Dec. 15 in Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah Hospital and Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital, and have spread throughout the state now that a second vaccine is available that does not need special refrigeration.
Nationally, the vaccine rollout has fallen short of projections, with just under 2.8 million people getting shots despite more than 12.4 million doses being distributed as of Wednesday, but Utah is already starting to speed up the process, health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said.
He said Thursday more than 6,000 additional doses were reported administered in Utah, double the daily increases earlier in the week. What’s making the difference, Hudachko said, is that local health departments, including tribal clinics, and long-term care facilities are able to give doses much faster than hospitals.
In Davis County, a mass drive-thru clinic at the Legacy Events Center is able to vaccinate 28 health care workers at a time with appointments, he said. At long-term care facilities, CVS and Walgreens and other contractors are quickly inoculating both residents and staff.
At the state’s largest medical provider, Intermountain Healthcare, 20,000 of 38,000 caregivers are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the week, spokesman Glen Beeby said. He said vaccinations, which started with intensive care unit and emergency room workers, are now open to all employees.
University of Utah Health has vaccinated about 8,300 of its approximately 17,000 employees, prioritizing front-line health care teams first, public relations director Kathy Wilets said.
The federal government has left it to the states to determine who gets vaccinated when, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert added teachers and school staff to the priority list. Hudachko said they are scheduled to begin receiving shots the week of Jan. 25, after police officers, prison guards and others in protective services.
That should complete the state’s first phase of vaccine distribution. The health department recently announced Utahns 75 and older will be at the top of the list when the second phase of vaccinations begins, likely in mid-February.
Others being considered for prioritization include other older Utahns; those with underlying medical conditions; tribal reservation communities; prisoners and other living in congregate settings; and racial and ethnic groups at higher risk of contracting the deadly virus.
State health officials have said it could be July before vaccines are available to all Utahns.
The state tracks vaccine distribution by health district. So far, Salt Lake County, has received the most doses, nearly 64,000, and administered more than 13,400 shots according to the most recent data, followed by Utah County, which has used more than 3,800 of more than 18,400 doses.
A total of 30,200 vaccinations were reported in Utah as of Thursday, although the health department says the number of people who’ve been vaccinated will likely be seven days or more behind the number of vaccines that have been shipped to the state.
Utah’s allocation for vaccines next week is 33,575 doses, Hudachko said.
Contributing: Wendy Leonard